As the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) kicks off proceedings on the February 25 Presidential election petitions, candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP), Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, respectively have filed applications for live broadcast of proceedings.
Atiku and the PDP had in their application dated May 5, specifically prayed the tribunal for “An order directing the Court’s Registry and the parties on modalities for admission of Media Practitioners and their Equipment into the courtroom.”
The petitioners had in their applications filed by their lawyers led by Chris Uche, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria ( SAN), averred that their applications are predicated on the fact that the matter under dispute is of “national concern.”
According to them, “The matter before the Honourable Court is a dispute over the outcome of the Presidential Election held on 25th February 2023, a matter of national concern and public interest, involving citizens and voters in the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, who voted and participated in the said election, and the International Community as regards the workings of Nigeria’s Electoral Process.”
They are also contending that being a unique electoral dispute with a peculiar constitutional dimension, it is a matter of public interest whereof millions of Nigerian citizens and voters are stakeholders with a constitutional right to receive.
“An integral part of the constitutional duty of the court to hold proceedings in public is a discretion to allow public access to proceedings either physically or by electronic means.
“With the huge and tremendous technological advances and developments in Nigeria and beyond, including the current trend by this Honourable Court towards embracing electronic procedures, virtual hearing and electronic filing, a departure from the Rules to allow a regulated televising of the proceedings in this matter is in consonance with the maxim that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.”
According to them, “Televising court proceedings is not alien to this Honourable Court, and will enhance public confidence.”
They recalled that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had expressed similar concerns in its communiqué at the end of its National Executive Committee meeting in Birnin Kebbi March 23, where they had called on the judiciary to allow for live broadcast of court hearings on election petition, particularly the presidential election cases.
This position was supported by lawyers under the aegis of Leaders of Thoughts and Legal Icons, who also noted the importance of the case to public interest.
To this end, the group had invited Nigerians to sign up on an appeal on a non-partisan online platform, in support of the initiative.
This position was also backed by the Obi/Datti Presidential Campaign Council (PCC)
Acting National Publicity Secretary of the Labour Party (LP), Obiora Ifoh, while speaking with BusinessDay on the issue, counseled the tribunal on the need to televise the proceedings of the tribunal, as it will “give credibility to the outcome of the proceedings.”
According to Ifoh, “With such innovation, there will be greater public confidence in the outcome of proceedings. Nigerians will believe them more if the members of the public are carried along.
“Don’t forget that there is so much trust deficit in public place at the moment. So, I wish they agree to make the proceedings public real time.”
In a related development, Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer, and key leaders of thought of Project Nigeria Movement (PNM), a body of eminent leaders of thought in the country, led by foremost constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, have backed calls for live broadcast of election petition trials.
In the same vein, Tonnie Iredia, a former director general of Nigeria Television Authority and communications scholar, had in an incisive published paper called for televising of the election petition proceedings in Nigeria in the interest of national concern and public interest, as envisaged by the 1999 Constitution (As Amended).
No date has however, been fixed for hearing in the fresh application.